Asexuality and mental health conditions

Some asexual people, like people of every sexuality, have experienced trauma or mental conditions such as depression or anxiety. However, asexuality itself is not a mental condition.

Although issues such as depression can lower a person’s sex drive, these conditions are not generally the cause of a lifelong lack of sexual attraction. Most asexual people who have various mental conditions were aware of their lack of sexual attraction before and/or between episodes of their current condition. However, this is obviously more difficult in situations where people have experienced trauma early in life, such as in childhood.

A common misconception around asexuality is that asexual people must have been sexually abused as children, and that this is the cause of their asexuality. This is similar to the idea that gay men must have been abused by men as children, and that this is what made them attracted to men. A similar idea is sometimes used to explain the existence of lesbians –  that being sexually abused by men as children ‘turned lesbian women off men’ and made them attracted to the same gender instead.

As with being gay, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that traumatic experiences in childhood do not determine adult sexuality. Although this kind of trauma may have many negative impacts on a person’s life, there is no evidence that it affects their adult sexuality. For example, most women who were sexually abused by men as children end up having heterosexual relationships as adults, even though previous abuse can make such relationships more difficult. Another good indication of whether childhood trauma may be the cause of a person’s lack of sexual interest is if the person experiences sexual attraction, but feels that they shouldn’t or can’t act on it. For some people, it is hard to figure out if childhood trauma has caused their lack of interest in sex, especially because figuring out what sexual attraction is can be complicated for those who have never felt it. In this case it’s okay to identify as asexual. In most cases, if a person has never experienced sexual attraction in adulthood, they were likely going to be that way regardless of childhood experiences. If they later discover that they were repressing their sex drive due to their past experiences, then this process of self-discovery should be regarded as a good thing. After all, sexuality is not always an easy thing to figure out, and many people choose the wrong term to describe themselves somewhere in that process.

Another similarly difficult situation is where someone began experiencing a mental condition such as severe or chronic depression from around the onset of puberty or before. For people who have lived with such a condition all their adult life (and sometimes with the side effects of medication), it can be very difficult to tell if their lack of sexual attraction is due to the condition they experience or not. If they have no expectation of recovering, then they are in the same situation as a person with a lifelong medical condition that cannot be treated (discussed here). In this case there is no problem with them identifying as asexual, because they will have similar experiences as an asexual person. Given how little is known about the cause of any sexuality or gender identity, including the so called ‘normative’ ones (heterosexual, heteroromantic, cisgender etc.), it may simply be impossible to know whether a particular condition has caused someone to be asexual. In any case, given that the experience of being asexual is what all asexual people have in common, the cause is somewhat irrelevant. For those who feel that their asexuality is being caused by a lifelong medical or mental condition, and want to find a ‘cure’ for this condition so that they can be allosexual, they should be encouraged to do so. While there may be no guarantee that ‘fixing’ their condition will make them allosexual, everyone should be able to decide what is right for them in their own unique situation.

To summarise, most asexual people do not experience mental conditions that could cause asexuality. Sending such people to a therapist with the hope that this will ‘fix’ them is not recommended, and there is a long history of sex (and other) therapists trying and failing to treat asexuality. Asexuality is now thought to be as ingrained as sexual orientation, and therapy for asexuality is about as effective as conversion therapy for gay people. However, given the number of people who experience mental conditions, there will always be grey areas and unknowns. For some people it may be impossible to tell if their asexuality is innate, or whether it was caused by something later in life. Regardless, these people are welcome to identify as asexual. The cause of an individual’s asexuality is less important than their experience of asexuality.

Want to learn more about aspects of the LGBTQIA+ experience? Read on to discover about forms of non-sexual and non-romantic attraction.